Online Haggling In Store:
It's Closer to Reality
Than You Think
by Richard Lewin
Unfortunately for the photo specialty dealer, the nightmare of "get the full demo here, and buy for the best price elsewhere" is a part of human nature that must be dealt with daily.
But even worse tossing and turning at night may be in store for the dealer, thanks to technologies that will become increasingly commonplace, such as wireless Internet access.
Here's the nightmare scenario: you've just spent twenty minutes comparing the menu system, the playback options, the various options in output quality, etc., of three different digital camera models, on the camera, and on your computer. The customer then asks you what your best price is. You quote a fair price. Suddenly, they whip out their Pocket PC or Palm device and show you, in real time, how much less they could get it for using mysimon.com or cnet.com, coolsavings.com, etc. as price search engines.
A close substitute is the cellular phone call in your store, with an open line to their friend online at the other end. (Have you seen Dennis Franz in the Nextel commercial talking on a cell phone in the TV Department of an electronics superstore?).
The famous well-known quote is: "I'd love to buy from you, but do you blame me for wanting to save $30 for the same thing?" Professional sales technique calls for a gracious reply.
How to Stop the Nightmare from Becoming a
The photo specialty dealer's response to such a "nightmare" could include components of the following:
• Charge an admission fee to your store ($15.00?), refundable from any purchase during that visit. At least, even if no product sale is made, we can profit from being industry consultants.
• Accept the Internet price challenge, and actually "be the good guy" and help the customer go online in your store to buy the main product from a popular "cheapest site on the Internet." You could make a deal with these cheap sites to get a percentage commission for every sale originating at your store, or resulting from a link from your website. This extra profit center would not require a lot of bookkeeping, since tracking could be provided by services like Commission Junction (www.cj.com). This would leave the profitable accessory sales for you.
• Set up your own cellular repeater and Wireless ISP, each
dedicated to your store area, that track cellular calls and
wireless Internet service, and charge by the minute for access, a
new type of profit center.
• Offer Bluetooth-enabled "credit cards" to regular customers. As these cardholders move around the store, they can point to a product of interest's bar code, helping the store to create customized profiles for targeted marketing. Special discount rewards would be given in exchange for customer cooperation in such a program. Staples has already implemented a credit card customer profiling system. What's next?
What Goes Around Comes Around
While some of these ideas may seem a bit far-fetched, who could have predicted the rapid speed of change in our industry's business models? In a way, by promoting technologies that have "high speed access to informationanytime, anywhere" as their Holy Grail, we have brought this new competition upon ourselves. We are the ones who have sold our customers the Cliés, the Palms, the Handsprings, that allow this kind of communication access.
Remember also that the use of the Internet is not a one-way street, benefiting only the customers in their search for a bargain.
Let me report something I witnessed the other day in the store of one of my camera specialty dealer friends. Someone came in to trade in a used Leica lens. They told the store owner the price they wanted. In an interesting turnabout, the owner took the customer into his private office, logged on to ebay.com, and showed them how little people were getting for such a lens on the Internet.
The result: the store offered $150 less than what the customer wanted. Turnabout is fair play, I guess.